If we were allowed to attend one of the leadership meetings at our local congregation–those meetings that only the leadership are allowed to attend, guess what topics would be discussed? Usually only one topic: Money. If there is a second topic: Church growth: how to get more people to come to this organization. Why? One reason could be: because we don’t have enough money. A second reason could be: because we feel better about ourselves as leaders if the group is growing.
The American church, as it is run today, bears little resemblance to what Jesus envisioned. Jesus walked around the countryside living with his disciples, telling metaphorical stories about God and the kingdom. The apostle Paul envisioned relationships between older people and younger people that would slowly produce maturity. What we have today is more of a popularity contest. If the church doesn’t grow, the preacher gets fired, and a more popular preacher is hired. The more popular preacher is under the gun: attract more people or move on. You want a raise? Get people to give more money. Biggest item on all traditional congregation’s budgets: preacher’s salary. Second biggest item: a building to gather the people who will support the preacher. Preachers are too invested to look at these problems objectively: they have four to six years of schooling, and school debt to pay for, and a career choice to justify.
Pastors have an impossible task: make today’s popularity contest churches look like what Jesus established, while supporting themselves from the contributions their churches collect. Pastors come from idealistic backgrounds: over 60% of pastors are the children of an alcoholic parent. Most pastors are in serious burnout: 70% say they are depressed and don’t have a good marriage, 60% use porn, 25% are currently having an affair with a member of their congregation. Most would leave the pastorate if they could find another way to support their families.
Our pseudo-churches offer just enough to justify or fool people into thinking that what they are participating in is an actual church that Jesus established: singing together (one of the most uplifting experiences for humans), a God-centered message (that makes us feel good), pseudo-prayer (not really talking to God, mostly more sermon, or just filler between more presentable items), and communion (reduced to tiny morsels, and divorced entirely from the Seder meal at which Jesus instituted it). If these fail to stir up the populace, then sometimes we trot out the Enemies: the gays, the communists, the enemies of Israel, porn, secular humanism, and abortion. Trot out the other pony: missionary speakers and mission trips, and there we have it: the Evangelical Show. We get bored, but we stay in church because we want our kids to get a godly foundation: youth group, where our kids learn how to smoke marijuana and have sex, while the parents fool themselves into thinking they are getting holy. Almost everything we do in church today is not what it says it is: Worship is seldom worship, prayer is seldom prayer, communion is seldom communion, teaching is seldom learning, relationship is seldom relationship. Everything is canned, packaged and on video for sale. To call it Church is a sales pitch that convinces about half of evangelicals. The other half stays home.
Postmodern churches, the happening emerging churches, have a steady diet of sermons entitled: “We do it differently”, “How church should really be”, and “Real Church”, that hold out a carrot stick of hope to thousands who find McEvangelical Church empty of calories. The sermons are different: different enemies, different emphases, updated music, until five years later we realize our emerging church is no different: same focus on money and building, same popularity contest, same emptiness.
So we quit, and then we get the call from the pastor: Would you like to meet? And then the awkward breakfast meeting: Why aren’t you coming to church? “Because it’s not church.” What pastor wants to hear that? Every pastor is working his/her butt off trying to please everyone so the church will grow. How dare you say I’m not working hard enough? “I’m not saying that. I’m saying the agenda set by the populace is not Jesus’ agenda.”